Friday, March 30, 2007

Killing your Darlings...

Here's my attempt at keeping things light on a Friday: Let's share our favorite lines of dialogue, bits of business, anything...that never made it to air. Flagged by S&P, cut for time, utterly superfluous, whatever. I know you've got a few. I've got two that immediately come to mind:

1) Years ago, I freelanced on a craptastic "Littlest Pet Shop" series. In the opening of one of my eps, I needed the pet shop owner to be distracted on the phone, so the animals could...engage in clever comedic hijinks (at least, I'm pretty sure that was the intent). So, as we fade up, the shop owner is in mid-conversation and says:

"Egrets? I've had a few...But, then again, too few to mention."

A total throwaway, about as non "kid relatable" as you can get, and I understand why it got cut - but it still makes me laugh.

2) 1st season of "Yin, Yang, Yo". Episode where Yin puts her special 'two-nicorn' doll on a stool, Master Yo sits on it and crushes it - the two-nicorn horns stick in his butt - and Yin and Yang go on a journey to get the doll fixed. They succeed, Yin puts the doll on the stool, and I pitched the following line as Yo sits on the doll again:

"Dang it - that's my second painful stool of the day!" killed at the board punch.

Your turn...

When Roy and Vincent agree, a new post must be created

roy quoted:
::Getting footage back that is 3 to 4 minutes short is a bitch to deal with ::

Then roy said:
I've never, EVER seen this happen. Every single artist I know in the industry complains that their scripts are too long and they work their asses off on whole sequences that just wind up getting cut for time.Are they all just full of shit or lying?I doubt it.

They're not lying. But I can tell you, there is a mentality of "I would rather be over than under," and while I'd like to not be three or four minutes over, I like having extra footage to cut.

And as frustrating as it must be for an artist to see their work not end up in the cartoon, it's easier to subtract than add.

The way I protect myself against that so I don't have to go way over on a cartoon? I try to make sure there's at least one or two gags in the show that can be elongated... In that "It's funny, it's not funny, it's funnier" sort of beat structure. I'm aware, at the animatic phase - what things I think can be used, used again, and used in future episodes for cutaway gags.

For a 10:20 cartoon, we tend to get animatics back at 11:00 and, once we fiddle with it, it still ends up about ten to twenty seconds short... most of the time.

Roy quoted:
::perhaps we have learned from experience that one minute per page doesn't work for the kind of shows we work on?::

Roy replied:
How would a writer know? Since when do writers deal with the animation timing?

Well, as a writer that deals with the timing of my shows, and since the shows I do are in flash, giving me the ability to sit at a computer with my editor and say "add four more frames of hold," or "make that fall happen in two frames," - I think it goes writer to writer.

Like I say over and over again... I'm trying to learn the skills, and the language, to make better cartoons.

Roy Also replied:

I'd also question your definition of the term "work"... does a "working script" in your opinion require a bunch of editing and rewriting and revising once the storyboard is finished?

Somewhere else, Vincent said:

I've worked on Script shows and I've worked on Storyboard shows, and I feel the Storyboard shows are funnier. The more funny people you have trying to push a shows humor forward, the more chance you have for said show to be funny.At Spumco everyone looked at everyone's boards and if they thought of something to push the story or a gag, they would share that thought. If it made the finale product better, stronger, and funnier it went in to the show. It was a constantly growing and morphing process.

And that's how I define "working" the story after the script is finished. After the record, we look at the board and punch it. After the punch, we look at the animatic and punch it. After the take one returns, we look at the cartoon and we try to plus it - and if we want to create new animation and place it in the cartoon, we have an in-house flash team that can aniamte stuff.

The show isn't done until it delivers.

Vincent also said, somewhere else:
On script shows the polar oppisite is true. My experience has been that once a show is locked into script, very little is going to done to plus the content. Everyone starts to worry that THIS is the Approved Script, we shouldn't alter it.

In fact when I got into this business, if as a Storyboard Guy you started altering content of a script, you wouldn't be around long. I would get red scribbles on Slimmer Storyboards from the writer showing the angle he preferred the scene to be staged.

Ick. When a storyboard artist points out something in a script that's going to be a nightmare, I try to listen. When a board artist has an idea that makes things easier, or better, or funnier or more economical, I listen.

Yes, there are absolutely times that "I want what I want," but that's what comes out of being in charge. I'm either right, or wrong, but the decision falls to me when those responsibilities are entrusted to me.

That being said, if I don't listen to the people who know execution better than I do - people who were HIRED because of that skill - I'm an idiot.

It's funny, because this debate takes two turns:
* Don't lock the script, because it might change.
* If you change the script, your script sucks.

I think the answer is this: On a script-driven show, the production has to be just as flexible in changing things as you would on a board driven show... especially in comedies, you have to look at the script as you would a "thumbnail pitch" and know minutia of the script might change as the story unfolds. If the story changes? That's a crappy script.

One of the reasons I don't like outlines in 11 minute cartoons is that I think the story goes where the story goes and nine times out of ten, that outline goes out the window. It's a waste of time and I don't make people writing on 11 minute comedies write them.

Let me repeat that, because it's important: It's a waste of time and I don't make people do it. Economy of production starts there, and hopefully, continues all the way through

It's animation. You can go anywhere and do anything. Why would you ever lock a show at the word stage when you can continue plussing it when the actual animating is happening?

Vincent also said:
The point you're all failing to see because you're so defensive about these issues is that these rules are GENERAL guidelines. A good animator can look at a script regardless of how many pages it is and tell you if it's likely to be too long or too short.The real point is that if someone tells you your scripts are coming in too long, you SHORTEN THEM.

But, yet again, here you have another issue where the overhwelming majority of animators are telling you what one of their problems with writers are and your response is simply to say "There's no problem. We're right, you're wrong."

Nah, I'm not. And it's absolutely something I could be better at.

Almost finally, Vincent also said:
I have been handed 62 page scripts for an eleven minute show. When I pointed out that this would be a problem, I was brushed off with "Oh but we're not doing one of those Nick type shows."

I don't even know what that means. Were Rugrat scripts 11 pages because you could write "The baby crawls" and know that would take 30 seconds?

When I started, I wrote some HEINOUSLY long scripts. It took smarter people than me to break me of that habit, and they did... for the most part.

And Finally, Vincent said:

We all over-write. I do it, you do it. One of things that seperates a good writer from the pack is the ability to say more with less, or you can just change the font size. Hahaha.... uh ya, that's not funny.

Well, I don't know who said it, but all writing is rewriting. Anybody who thinks their first anything is finished is either lazy, or fooling themselves.

And I might consider going back and looking at my responses, but... at least in this instance, I'm gonna be a little lazy.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Anonymity Discussion

So... today, 13 people who I know from the internet and this blog - script writers - met over bowls of meat and veggies at the Burbank Media Center mall.

It was actually nice - seeing people I haven't seen in years, or only worked with once or twice. As always, people vowed to do it again. (Checking the date)

But... it made me think about anonymous posting.

I'm on the fence. I would prefer people be held accountable to their opinions, but I don't want to squelch pointed debate. That being said, it's internet, and anyone of us could masquerade as a 13 year old girl, and none would be the wiser.

So... I'll toss it out to the group. Should I leave anonymous up and running or take it down?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Steven Worth's post at the ASIFA ARCHIVE BLOG


Comment here.

Bob Harper's List Of Things You Should Question In Your Script

From previous post:


1. Non-sequitor gags requiring new visuals.

2. Scenes that have too many characters interacting.

3. Do the characters need to be doing odd tasks or moving through the scene for fear they may appear static?

4. Too much direction in the scripts. Let the board artist do what they do. (BTW - animators have some issues with some board artists as well)

5. Monologues that cause the board artists to overly "animate" the dialog.

6. Too many locations.

7. Abundant costume changes, lighting, color etc. of pre-existing models.

8. Crowd scenes

9. New characters

10. Singing and Dancing

11. New Exotic Locations

Tad Stones: directing on the page

Director Tad Stones, he of the animated Hellboy, and one hell of a nice boy himself, has a great and relevant post about directing on the page. He says the kinds of things I'm not only always trying to do myself in scripts, but always trying to get everyone who writes for me to do.

I've found that if you're writing a pilot, or other type of first draft that needs to be a "fun breezy read" then heavy directing on the page is going to send you into revisions. However, for most animation scripts, this here's the gospel. Folks aspiring to be seen as someone who knows how to write animation should check out the link below.

Click Here

--Evan Gore

Marmel:New Authors On The Blog

For those of you keeping track - other writers are now beginning to post, which is awesome.

New authors: If you want to put your screen name, or blog name, up before your post... I think it'd be cool for the readers to know where it's coming from (even though it is at the bottom of the post.)

Try to put labels on your posts - because that's the stuff that gets the word out. Since the below post DOESN'T have them, I'll add them to this.

And, thank god, WELCOME!

P.S. Somebody read this in Taipei? Seriously?

Wish I Wrote That (an ongoing series)

This outta lighten the mood: did you catch the Dora parody on SNL?

Now THAT'S funny cartoon writing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Minutes of the Secret Writers Meeting


The meeting was called to order at 12:02 AM after the usual opening ritual of pissing on Chuck Jones' grave, (we think it's THE Chuck Jones but most of us aren't even sure if the guy's alive or dead).

OLD BUSINESS - we received a report on Project K. Our mole in the artist community is doing a great job polarizing writers and artists and preventing them from having any meaningful dialogue that might improve things.

NEW BUSINESS - A plan to convince Cartoon Network to air live action shows but not change its name, thereby redfining cartoons to include live action was rejected as being too far fetched.

In short, our plan to destroy all cartoons by 2011 is currently on schedule.

-Provost Seven

Monday, March 26, 2007

Andi's Post, moved to new topic

As I've said before - I would like it if there were other posters here, so I'm going to use Andi's post, which was 46 in a long line of comments, to the top here.
Andi said...

Why do you consider calling an idiotic script "idiotic" personal? Its not personal, its business. Most of the scripts that come through the pipeline for animation are idiotic. Theres no way this topic would inspire such constant outcry from the artist community if it were all just a big personal vendetta. Artists are just tired of having to do all the heavy lifting. You can say "I love the artists I work with" all you want, but do you really do anything to make their jobs easier? Its a tough question to ask yourself and the author of this blog seems more interested in addressing their hurt feelings than the real topic at hand: why are most animation scripts so bad? Are the writers merely ignorant of the medium or are they just lazy?
If you happen to be a hardworking writer who is actually sensitive to the nature of the medium of animation then you really have nothing to be offende by. The John Kricfaluccis of the world can rave all they want, but if your a good writer and you know it then you know that you are the exception to the rule. Good writers should be the ones who are most offended by bad writers anyway because they make you look bad.
Heres a good test to guage if you are a bad writer or not: how closely does your final script draft resemble the finished cartoon? Did it require a lot of reworking or changes? A good cartoon script would be an accurate blueprint for the show. A bad one needs a lot of extra work (usually done by the artist).
Animation has become an assembly-line process and when someone in that assembly-line isnt pulling their weight, everyone else suffers.
If your part of the solution, then good for you. If your part of the problem, then you need to step up or step aside.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A few quick thoughts:

1) I truly wish other animation writers would post here. This is me, suggesting politely, that you do. I'm going to cut down on the frequency because it was never my intention for this to be "my blog." If you're a writer and you want to post on here, shoot me an E-mail and I'll give you author permission.

2) Stephen, I appreciate you being here but when a dude tells you he had a family member pass, take the time to express sympathy before going off on your tirade and saying he's too stupid to do anything. Jesus.

3) Starting next week, I'll try to post proactively instead of reactively, because I am getting a bit fatigued at cutting and pasting and I sort of agree that I should discuss the things I believe in, instead of the things I simply disagree with.

4) And speaking of which, and for the record, Robotaekwon , there was nothing in that recent John K post I disagreed with when it came to his criticism of the script he copied and pasted.
When he's not pissing in the direction of the laptop I write on, I find his knowledge and experience to be incredibly valuable.
A 24 page script for a 12 minute cartoon is indefensible, and that scene with every bird in the world is the kind of thing I would put in a script as an April Fool's Day gag to a friend. But I would let them know it was a joke before the first crow was drawn.
Most importantly: It's "weasel," not "weasle." If it's easier, I'm sure there are four letter words that you could call me that would be much, much simpler to spell.

...and finally...

5) Sometime in May, I'm going to set an evening of drinks, somewhere and invite anybody from here, and anybody from John's blog, to come out. THAT will be my first comment on his page.
Why? Because if all of this is theory, and none of this personal, we should all be able to hang like people and have civil, if not passionate, discussions in front of each other. Lurking animators? Got any favorite bars?
Stephen? Vincent? Bob? Anybody want to take the reins for your side of this and corral your side of the argument?

Sleeping now.

- Steve

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Don't know much about history: Another post moved to it's own topic

Stephen starts it - I just cut and paste it.

Stephen Worth said...

I am guessing that there are no cartoon writers out there who have any kind of sense at all of where they come from.

When I visit with animators, the talk inevitably turns to discussions of classic cartoons and the animators who created them. Animators will argue at length about the relative strengths and weaknesses of Ward Kimball, Irv Spence or Robert McKimson.

I've thrown out over a dozen names of cartoon writers on this blog. These are the men who wrote the Mickey Mouse cartoons, the Disney features, Bugs Bunny cartoons and Huck Hound and Yogi Bear. They're the writers who built the industry we all work in.

I'm asking an honest question here...

Are there any cartoon writers who have any kind of interest in Bill Peet, Joe Grant, Warren Foster or Mike Maltese. Do you even know who these people are? If you don't, shame on you.

Animators can be no better about the history of their craft. I gave a speech at the Lion King reunion where I held up a picture of a man and asked if anyone knew who it was. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. The picture I was holding up was of Ub Iwerks, the man who created Mickey Mouse. The inventor of the multiplane camera, animation xerography and process screen technology which is still used to combine live action and animation to this day. No one knew who he was. And the picture I was holding up was pulled from the trash can at Film Roman.

If I was standing in front of a group of jazz musicians and held up a picture of Louis Armstrong, they would know who it was. Directors would recognize a photo of Alfred Hitchcock. Painters would recognize Pablo Picasso or Salvador Dali.

Why do people in the animation business have such little regard for their own medium and its history? There are too many people in animation who just see it as a stepping stone to something else that they'd rather be doing.

If animation writers truly do have respect for their medium, let's hear about it. Lip service isn't good enough. Let's see some passion instead of studio politics and griping about not being loved.

Tell me about your favorite classic cartoon and the person who wrote it.

Wide shot of a quiet landscape at night.


See ya

Steve said...


You make a valid point, but here's my counter.

The things I like about cartoons are the writing. I can tell you about Matt and Trey, and if I sat and thought about it, probably name a lot of the people who wrote on their shows. I saw the first "Spirit of Christmas" short they made, and it made me laugh.

I can tell you about how Seth Macfarlane hand drew his pilot and sold a series.

I know who Matt Groenig is, AND I can name Simpson writers.

I can tell you how much I like Paul Dini and Alan Burnett's written work with super heroes, or how much I like Dwayne McDuffie, Stan Berkowitz and Rich Fogel's stuff now.

Batman the Animated Series, and Batman Beyond forever changed how super heroes were treated. Justice League and JLU forever washed the "ick" off Superfriends and as an avid comic book fan, I will be forever grateful.

I can tell you how much it meant to me to sit down with Mark Evanier when I first started getting involved in animation.

Moving further back, I can tell you how much I hated "Three Stooges The Animated Series" but how much I adore the old Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and classic warner brothers cartoons because it worked for adults and kids.

How I grew tired of the Flintstones and the Jetsons, but couldn't stop watching Jay Ward stuff.

I liked Super Chicken. Sue me. I liked Rocky and Bullwinkle and Roger Ramjet because there was subtext.

I know who Tex Avery is. I know who Chuck Jones is. Would I recognize a photo of Ub Iwerks? Probably not.

But I know Otto Messmer's creation, because there are things about that 1960s (ish) Felix the Cat cartoon that disturb me to this day.

You look to the artists, fair enough. I look to the writers more than artists, but that's my taste. And I'm not so ignorant as to say "Chuck Jones isn't a writer."

How about the other way around? What writers do you know and like?

- Steve

Moving a post here because it's the start of a... dare I say it... civil conversation?

And by the way, crap.

I spent a couple hours on the plane to Toronto writing an incredibly vitriolic post that went point for point on the post Stephen had said I was evading...

...only to land, log on, and see this:

Stephen Worth said...

Responding to a couple of posts together...

I'll tell you one thing about John. He argues passionately, but fairly. If you come up with a good argument and can support it with proofs that are stronger than what he can come up with, he will go back and research the area that he wasn't aware of before, and if it holds up, he'll change his opinion. I've seen him do it. I've been a part of changing his opinions on certain subjects before. That's intellectual honesty, not dogma. Dogma is saying, "We might as well discuss something else because we will never agree on this subject."

The problem here is the fact that John is incredibly well versed on the subject of how to make cartoons. He's spent 30 years interviewing great animators and directors, and applying the principles they shared with him to his own work. He studies direction very seriously. He admits that doing things the most efficient way doesn't always result in a hit, but it at least gives you a chance, and if you fail, you've at least had the opportunity to experiment and learn from your mistakes.

I admit I don't know a lot of cartoon writers. The ones I worked with back at Bagdasarian and on Cool World weren't the sharpest knifes in the drawer and they almost never interacted with the artists. In fact, they didn't seem to care what happened after they turned in their script except to complain about how the animators "butchered it". Perhaps I just haven't met the right ones.

I'm interested in your suggestion of speaking about technique. As a cartoon writer, I'm guessing that you have done the same sort of research into the history and technique of your craft as John has with direction. The history of cartoon writing is something I have a particular interest in.

I'm currently working on building a museum, library and archive dedicated to animation for The International Animated Film Society: ASIFA-Hollywood. You probably know ASIFA from the Annie Awards. I serve on the Board of Directors.

I'm in contact with a lot of students who aspire to work in animation. I'm working with them to try to get them to fully understand the history of the medium so they can build upon the past, rather than reinventing the wheel.

I would be interested in hearing how you as a cartoon writer incorporate techniques from classic cartoons into your own work. I spoke to Jack Enyart about that subject, and he didn't seem to have any concept of how his work related to the way they did it in the past.

As I've said, to me, there seems to be a huge disconnect between the way story was handled in the first half of animation's history and the way it is done now. But perhaps there's something I'm missing. I'd be interested in sharing research on the subject of cartoon story if you've got info that I don't have.

At the archive, I have a great deal of material relating to golden age story. In particular, I some very interesting documents related to Warren Foster. I'm guessing you know a lot about him, since he was the Babe Ruth or Louis Armstrong of cartoon writing. Feel free to stop by the archive any time and I'm happy to share this stuff with you.

I'm working on a post for the archive blog on cartoon story, and I'm looking for historical documents relating to the process... story meeting notes, premises, outlines, etc. If you know where I can get copies of anything like this, I'd appreciate the tip. I'd also like to hear how the process used in the past relates to how you create stories for cartoons today.


You got it.

I'll say it up front - I'm not an encyclopedia of animation history, I just know what I like and I try to learn as I go.

But I am more than willing to learn from you, as well as talk (at the very least) about my theories on what I like in cartoons and how I like to produce them, as long as it's not some sort of ambush and I'm going to end up dead in a dumpster with a pencil jabbed through my heart and a wacom tablet smashed against my head.

(Note I used both pencil and technology out of respect to the evolving nature of the industry.)

I'll also winnow down the other post, as there's a lot of my theory in there and post that another day.

In the meantime... writers? Feel free to proactively talk about your influences (animated and written) and how it's shaped what you do.

From Toronto...

- Steve

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

And now, a word from John K's pesonal Anti-Christ, Jeffrey Scott

So, in the midst of all of this, I figured it was only fair if Jeffrey Scott had the chance to weigh in on things, since, you know, his name has been used as a hammer in this whole debate.

His response?


I appreciate your giving me the opportunity to respond to John's comment.
Truthfully, I don't have the time nor interest to respond. I'm too
busy writing. John doesn't understand me, nor does he understand writing.
Ironically I was a cartoonist before I was a writer.

And thanks for saying hi.

Best wishes,


Wow! Seems like a real jerk, huh? (Note: I am using a writer's tool called "Sarcasm" where I exaggerate to make a point. He is not a jerk. He seems like a class act.)

The point is this - you can talk until you're blue in the face about how writers don't belong in animation, but there are people out there who have been doing it just as long as you... but just in the written word.

And they are just as passionate about the form of entertainment as anyone else... and probably slightly less exclusionary than others.

- Steve

P.S. For more information about Jeffrey Scott that's not tainted by fury and hate, you can either go here: Jeff's IMDB site Or to his actual website:

Monday, March 19, 2007

My Dear John letter.

Okay, so… here we go.

To be fair, I’ve been waiting for this because:

a) I knew it was coming (see previous blog).
b) This anti-writer attitude is one of the reasons I wanted to open a blog for writers. (Ahem, other writers, feel free.)

Before I start, I will say this: I am not going to attack John K. personally. I don’t know him personally. I will try to be fair professionally, because while he may not consider me an animation professional, I consider him a peer.

That being said, I’m going to go point for point on this . John K’s most recent post in ital, mine in bold.

“Skills you need to have to be a good cartoon writer:Here's the most important one:
Be a cartoonist
This is so self-evident, it seems crazy that it needs to be explained to anybody, but here goes...You don't have to be the greatest cartoonist, but you should have some experience animating, or at least inbetweening so you know how cartoons work.

That way you won't ask animators to do things that don't work in animation.You shouldn't write for any medium that you don't understand, because the people who have to actually make the medium will think you're an idiot and will waste their abilities trying make your awkward "ideas" seem smooth by patching them together with bandaids. That's the basic system the studios use today.”

Problem with your argument #1 – What makes a writer’s ideas any more or less awkward than yours? The basic argument – which is the only argument made here – is that the worst cartoonist is a better cartoon writer than the best cartoon script writer, and that’s horsecrap.

By those standards, the person drawing caricatures at Magic Mountain has more of right to be in animation than, oh I don’t know, a Paul Dini or an Alan Burnett. (Just to pick two names.)

“Ziggy” is done by a cartoonist. So is “Cathy.” You want to give Cathy Guisewite the money to animate that comic strip, then I say have at it. I'd rather throw that money into an open flame.

“Johnny Mercer wasn't as good a singer as Frank Sinatra, but he played instruments, read music and sang. He knew enough about singing to know what could be sung well by better singers. He knew the language he was writing for. He could carry a tune.

Would you trust a songwriter to write tunes if he had no way of playing you the tune-or even singing it to you?”

Yes, and those people are called “lyricists.”

It’s a small subsection of the musical community that write the words, and then work with people to bring those songs to life.
"Trust me, the tune in my head is really good. I just don't have any musical ability to show it to you. Let me describe the tune. There are some really fast low notes, then they speed up and go higher. Then there's a short fat note that wiggles for a couple beats. I think I mean beats... uh...what's a beat again?"
"That's what cartoon writers who don't draw are asking you to believe-that they have good visual ideas but no direct way to express them. That is exactly how their idiotic scripts read to us and we shake our heads in disgust. It's why the scriptwriters are laughed at by artists. I don't know how these "writers" can walk down the same halls as the artists who know they've had their medium stolen from them and know what charlatans they are.”

Well, here’s how I do it. With my head held high and, ideally, a great working relationship with the people who turn words into cartoons.

With the help of a talented director who has a vision for the show, who can turn the words on the page into the cartoon.

With the knowledge that I look at those people with respect, and understand how hard they’ve worked to get to the point they’re at, and hope that they have the same respect for me.

Knowing that whatever they’re working on is a step between where they started and where they want to be. I’m not so full of myself to think that the person who is working on whatever show I happen to be a writer on is so “honored” to be in my presence that they want nothing else in life.

At no point have I ever deluded myself into thinking that anybody could animate a cartoon… or that I would want just anybody to animate one of my scripts.

But then, that’s me… and a lot of other writers like me. I don’t feel the need to build myself up by pissing on someone else.

“The language of animation is pictures- and simple pictures too, because you have to draw lots and lots of pictures just to make something move. The more complicated the pictures are, the less an animator can do per week and the lousier the motion looks.
Having experience animating teaches you this fast and cures you of wanting to write crowd scenes and complicated costumes and difficult camera angles.Animation is also potential magic and you need to be able to draw and animate somewhat so that you can take advantage of what kind of magic animation can actually do well. An experienced animation artist's understanding of what cartoon magic is is much different than a non-visual person's is.”
“Here's what Jeffrey Scott and most animation "writers" think is the magic part of animation,
"In live-action you have to write a lot of real-life stuff, like people's problems and crime. But in animation for kids I can make up wild stories, write sci-fi or fantasy, and dream about worlds and see them appear on screen. This would be too expensive in live-action, but in animation it only takes an artist to draw some pictures and there it is!"

That’s one person’s opinion. Just one’s. Just as this blog is one person’s opinion. Mine. I’m not pretending to speak for an entire industry here and my gut tells me, neither was Jeffrey Scott.

“In other words, the magic is that you can slough off all the responsibility of having to know what you are doing on an artist. You don't have to do the hard part. You can write a bad live-action style epic with huge elaborate sets and a cast of thousands, and magically some poor artist (or hundreds of them) is stuck with making it happen - at 12 drawings a second.”


I am aware of this. I work with budgets and stay within them.

Lets play with some definitions here.

Instead of calling it the “hard part,” lets call it “labor intensive.” On a show where the story board artists aren’t writing, and are working from a script, this is a complaint about the amount of work that needs to be done, not the quality of the materials being produced.

I agree with the point about elaborate sets and crowd scenes. I agree those can be crutches. But if a writer on a script-driven show is working with producers, directors and board artists that are treated as equals and respected for their opinion… those things can be caught long before anybody has to spend too much time for too little pay off.

And if not, that’s what overtime is for.

One person cannot produce an animated series by himself.

“Obviously, drawing a storyboard gives you a much better idea if a scene or cartoon will work than writing it in words. You can just look at the storyboard in continuity and see it.

Even artists who try to write scripts realize this quickly.I learned by having to draw scenes I first "wrote" in words that some things I thought would work didn't. Then when I sat down and drew the ideas I invented many scenes, character bits and gags that I would never have thought of just by typing the ideas floating in my head and wasting time trying to verbalize them.
Somehow, much magic comes out of your pencil without you consciously dreaming it up.”

Whereas for me, that magic starts on the written page, and moves forward from there. You’re an artist. You draw your ideas. I’m a writer. I write mine. Which brings me to:
“Someone who can't draw will try to argue that he thinks visually, but unfortunately for him, he can never prove his point. In order for a blind writer to prove that he thinks visually, he has to get an artist to prove it by drawing the pictures for him. He can't get his wonderful pictures out of his head without the aid of someone who can draw. If the writer doesn't like the artist's interpretation he has no way of explaining how to do it right.”

No, but he or she CAN explain what he wants differently and if the writer created that show, that’s life.

There is a difference between a job, and a career. Don’t think for one minute the person who was drawing a hammer or an anvil for your production isn’t waiting for the opportunity to sell their own project and be in charge.

Every production has people that are doing their job because it’s a job. And if you’ve never heard otherwise, it’s because people are afraid to be honest to a show’s creator or executive producer with the following:

You work on other people’s dreams because you love what you do, but unless you’re dead on the inside, you’re working to get better… so you get your chance to create something YOU want to create, and then get your vision out there.

John, as one human being to another, I’ll say this:

I respect your talent, I respect your history.

I hope someday I create something that matters as much to fans and the industry as much as your work does and did. And I’m not even saying you’re wrong, for your opinion, on how you want to create your cartoons.

But it amazes me how someone who has spent their entire career working in color can be so incredibly black and white.

- Steve

John K writes about writing and writes about how much writers should not be writing cartoons... again.

Ya know, most of the time, I like John K's blog. It's educational, there's history in it... and it only helps nurture a respect for the art form. Plus, it's John K - those first Ren and Stimpy's remain some of my favorite cartoons ever.

Then, he writes about writing.

So... head on over to, and take a peek. Don't go spamming the comment section and kicking up crap there - no good comes of that. It's not a writer-friendly blog. But that doesn't mean the blog doesn't have merit.

Still... take a peek. Because at some point, I'm sure, there's going to be something said there, that's worth discussing here. In fact, there already is.

But it's 6:45 AM, and right now, all I want is coffee.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Carol Burnett and Schadenfruede

First off, due disclosure. I like Family Guy, and the creator of the show is a friend of mine. That being said, writers, we need to care about this:

<<Carol Burnett has filed a $2 million copyright infringement lawsuit against 20th Century Fox, claiming her cleaning woman character was portrayed on the animated series "Family Guy." The U.S. District Court lawsuit, which was filed Thursday, said the Fox show didn't have the 73-year-old comedian's permission to include her cleaning woman character, Charwoman, in an April 2006 episode.

The episode shows Charwoman as a porno-shop maid, and it uses what the lawsuit called an "altered version" of Burnett's theme music. The characters in the show also perform Burnett's signature ear tug, the lawsuit said.

Besides copyright infringement, Burnett alleges 20th Century Fox violated her publicity rights.

The studio said it was surprised by the lawsuit over what amounted to about an 18-second scene.

"`Family Guy,' like `The Carol Burnett Show,' is famous for its pop culture parodies and satirical jabs at celebrities. We are surprised that Ms. Burnett, who has made a career of spoofing others on television, would go so far as to sue `Family Guy' for a simple bit of comedy," said 20th Century Fox Television spokesman Chris Alexander.>>

No kidding.

I'm sure there are plenty of people reading this story - you can check out Smoking Gun's coverage and see the "offending clip" HERE - that are enjoying this for all the wrong reasons. Yeah, that's right, animation professionals, I'm talking to you.

This effects you too. Whether you're writing a script, drawing a story board, creating a character, doing a voice... this matters.

There is nothing more cancerous to comedy than just the threat of a lawsuit. Lawyers for studios and networks, worried that they'll be called to the carpet for allowing some sort of breach, smooth out the edges of any reference humor in an attempt to prevent suits like this.

It makes it harder to be relevant.
It makes it tougher to do commentary.
It makes writing comedy less fun because you find yourself self-censoring.

Are you willing to not watch the Flintstones because it was an "homage" to the Honeymooners? Willing to avoid Bugs Bunny with his mobster villain that was clearly based on "Jimmy Cagney?" Willing to not enjoy your loving hand painted version of "Winnie The Pooh?" Never watch another South Park?

Because it's all or nothing on this one, folks. Either things are fair game, or they are not. You don't get "Mecha-Streisand" and "Tom Cruise In A Closet" without "Carol Burnett mopping up salty goo in her maid outfit."

It has to go both ways. In the same way Carol Burnett probably made fun of pop culture references in her day (albeit 40s, 50s and 60s references), Family Guy gets to do it too. In the same way that 20th century fox didn't sue Comedy Central for their two-part South Park about Family Guy, Carol Burnett should have done the same.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for Carol Burnett to go from a world of three television networks where she was a star, to a world where Paris Hilton is celebrity royalty. But that's life. That's the passage of time for you.

Today's big deal is tomorrow's "who the hell" and you just have to hope you have saved enough money, and have enough real friends, that when all the flash and heat fades, you're fine.

Main Entry: 1par·o·dy
Pronunciation: 'per-&-dE, 'pa-r&-
1 : a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule

It's for all of us, or none of us. And just because you're done with it now, doesn't mean the rest of us are.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Does the cartoon professional who represents themself have a fool for a client?

No, this isn't about the union.

However, in the whole arena of "why do writers seem to get more respect" than animators (I put the word seem in there, pointing out that again, from my perspective, there is respect), I think the above question is valid.

Most writers have agents. Most animators don't.

When those of us with representation walk into a studio, by the time we've gotten there, we've had somebody besides us hammering the studio for the best deal, a clear delineation of our duties, our pay, our end dates... all the important stuff. In my mind, this gives us a few legs up at the start of our term of employment:

* At no point did we, personally, have to compromise with anyone for our jobs. We stayed out of it. We walk in knowing we got the best deal we could get, and weren't taken advantage of by past relationships.

* Our agents deal with the studio (or production company) - not the line producer. Which means you're not negotiating with the person that you're going to end up working for. It takes the "what if I push too hard" out of the equation.

* Having a lawyer that works in entertainment in conjunction with an animation agent, or an agent that does more than just animation, means you have somebody negotiating for you that treats the deal like a "television deal," not a "cartoon deal." That person isn't going to care about minimums, they're going to fight for what they believe you deserve. They're not going to settle for "the raise everybody else gets," they're going to push for what you want.

All of that, I think, adds up to that person walking into their first day of the job with momentum, respect and boundaries.

My point isn't that people who take jobs without an agent get screwed - only the person with the job can answer that. My point is, with representation, you're walking into a negotiation the same way a writer, a director, a producer or an executive producer, walks into that job.

Yes, an agent costs 10%. A lawyer costs 5% or, perhaps, an hourly fee. The question then becomes... is it worth it?

Again, I want to stress - this is not a slam at the union. Unions represent everyone (ideally), but they have to do so with minimums, and broad ones at that. I believe that you need someone in your corner that goes for the most you can get, not the least that's allowed.

But I also believe that person cannot be you.

Those are my thoughts. Yours?

Friday, March 9, 2007

New York: How great is it to be a writer here?

Random thoughts from a trip to New York.

* When you look in people's windows - which is impossible NOT to do because some of these places are at street level - you see bookcases. But, unlike a lot of places in LA, those bookcases don't feel like they're for show.
You actually feel like at some point, somebody's having a conversation and goes "Oh... wait... hang on..." and pulls down a reference. Hell, they probably do that in the midst of Trivial Pursuits.

* I saw the apartment complex that Opie lives in. (The one that makes movies and was on the Andy Griffith Show, not the one that does morning radio.)

* Twice while I was out in the last two days I saw people showing proofs for their books - books that were mostly art, with some writing surrounding it. These were kid books, obviously, but still... interesting to me, considering some of the conversations here.

* In a 24 hour town, there are people writing on their laptops at coffee houses past two o'clock in the morning.

And finally, and probably most importantly:

* Regardless of where you are in the city, if you've got the flu, you can get Nyquil at any time of the evening. This isn't necessarily a writing observation, unless you're Hunter S. Thompson and need to see pretty swirly things, but I was still thrilled.

New York makes me a little wistful, as I lived here for a short period of time in the late '80s, and really loved it here. But I also knew if I wanted to write for television, I had to live in Los Angeles. But if you could do what you do anywhere, where would you choose to do it?

Me: #1 choice - Madison, Wisconsin. #2 choice - Manhattan.

Tomorrow: Off to see Avenue Q. Very excited.

- Steve

P.S. I do, very much, love New York. But then I saw an Olive Garden. In a non-touristy area. Where there are nothing but great Italian restaurants. It's like putting a PF Changs in Beijing for God's sake..

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Awrighty... The Task for this week:

What cartoon do you like because of the writing, and why?

Don't say because it's pretty, because that's not the point of the post.

It's either well written action, comedy, drama... whatever. The drawings can look like ass for all I care (in this post). I'm simply wondering... what cartoon do you turn on (download, watch via the web) because of the words?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Writers and Artists Part II - Taking a chance on the new

Today I was thinking about "new talent."

I'm at the US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen - watching stand up comedians, sketch artists, improv groups... There's also a very large film festival here, with full length films... shorts... stuff like that.

A lot of agents and managers are here to sign and look for new talent, and more than a few people are here looking to find new comedic voices to write for them... which got me thinking about the different paths toward a person's first shot, and how the very path in which writers and artists are found and hired shapes their feelings toward each other.

My story first, if you'll indulge me.

My first job was writing on Johnny Bravo. To say I had little idea of what I was doing is an understatement. Whether it was jokes that were inappropriate for children's television, or simply mediocre animation story telling, I was learning on the job and I knew it. As I'm sure, by the way, did every artist on that show.

I'm sure I came off as a jackass. I'm sure, at points, I still do. :)

Couple that with the fact that since I didn't know whether my first job would be my last job, I split my attention between comedy and writing animation, with most of my chips on comedy. But by the end of the season - when cartoons started coming back, and I started seeing my words turned into the kind animated stuff I loved as a kid... it became something I wanted to continue doing.

I admit that now, but I didn't know then, obviously. What I knew about the HOWS of animation you could fit in a thimble, although that didn't diminish my enjoyment of it. And my desire to get better at it. And my being thrilled to find a new way to do what I loved to do - write comedy - in a different format.

But that's how I got my shot. I could have been a car crash, I could have been brilliant... I was... something of a fender bender that learned, I think, as I went. And I think that's a learning curve that writers get, that artists get much less of.

Correct me if I'm wrong - because these are just theories - but when an artist gets his or her first job, it's based on a portfolio. Be it boards, character designs, student films... there's a body of work that shows a network, a studio, or a producer that that artist can handle a job. The opportunity might be a position a level or two above the one they've done before - but you pretty much know what you're getting... it's right there on the page.

Its different for writing. Because you have to take so much more on faith. Yeah, somebody can write a great spec script, but you don't know how long it took. Yeah, you can read a great freelance script from another show, but you never know how much others put into it. And yes, you can test writers with freelance scripts... but you never know how they'll do on a production schedule, and you have to cut slack for them not knowing the characters as well as you do.

So, consequently, writers get hired with a lot less certainty in their skills than artists. But once you're hired, you're hired. You'd have to kick an employee in the face, or pee in the Executive Producer's office, to be let go.

I'm sure, as an artist with talent who can execute their job to the standards in which they were hired, looks at a shaky writer who cranks out one, two or three scripts that need work (but hopefully improve along the way) and it triggers an arched eyebrow, or an annoyed grumble.

Artists don't get to suck when hired. Mostly because, you probably don't. You've got a big ass portfolio of not sucking to prove it. If your designs don't match the show, it's obvious pretty fast. If your boards don't work with the show, you learn that after one pitch. If your timing blows, you see it fast. And so on and so on and so on. Even if you're a bit hacky, if you're hacky in the way the show wants you to be hacky, you're probably not going anywhere.

But writing is subjective... and if you (producer / studio) have seen somebody KILL on stage, and make a room or a theater roar with laughter, you already have somebody saying "This person HAS to be hilarious!"

Whether they can tell a story or not is the surprise.

I saw several comics today I would love to come in and pitch the shows I work on. If I like the logline, it'll go to premise. If I like the premise, it'll go to outline. If I like the outline, it'll go to script. That person gets to follow their idea all the way up until the point where it's obvious they're still looking for the skillset to do this regularly. and if they write a great script, they'll get a second one. It's only fair.

An untested comedy writer's portfolio is the script writing process - the ability to learn by doing on someone else's dime, really. Artists don't get that luxury, and I think that's another thing that drives a wedge.

I don't have a solution on this one. I don't even have a theory. But I do think it's one more perceived unfairness that creates tension.

How do you hire a new writer, without burdening or marginalizing established artists?